Monthly Archives: March 2015


That’s not it at all

As the token mental, can I put it out there that I’ve never flown a plane into a mountain. One person has, on purpose, once.

Depression doesn’t make you kill, either yourself or others. Mental illness doesn’t make you hurt friends or strangers. Crazies like me can hold down jobs. Be normal. Do stuff. Have families. Be ordinary. Boring, even.

The reality of depression is not mass murder. Or suicide. It’s a quiet, restarting dullness that wakes up with you and goes to bed with you. It just is. You just are. It’s part of you, inseparable. But it isn’t violence. Violence may come along with it, but it isn’t a part of it.

But… It might not always be there. It needs looking after but it isn’t necessarily forever.

What message do we get from a knee jerk reaction to these things? That people with mental health problems should be treated like ticking bombs? That they shouldn’t have responsible jobs? That they – we – might all flip at any time?

Even worse is what that kind of spreading attitude would do. Drive us all underground. Make us all hide. Make us avoid treatment, knowing we’d be stopped from having our dreams if we told the truth. Mental illness isn’t a linear progression from feeling funny one day to flying a plane into a mountain sometime later. That happened once. Once.

Every time after a disaster, a big loss of life – one that we can’t pigeonhole as evil (terrorism) or “it’s awful, but it’s war” (war) – there’s the same scramble to explain. The same questioning. The same need to wrap it up neatly.

Did this pilot even have mental health history? Did he seek treatment? Does it matter? Is some kind of mass killing so hugely out of the range of our experience that it can’t be neatly explained away?

Maybe it doesn’t matter at all. If it makes you feel better, you tell yourself that all people everywhere on the spectrum of mental illness are crazies and nutters and are going to kill you. And that that’s the only explanation. But there are sometimes no explanations – for this, for Moorgate for example, for any of these tragedies.

That’s not it at all. But what does it matter? How does it help? And it if doesn’t help, why do it at all?

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Posted by on March 27, 2015 in Uncategorized


Being mum and dad, or whatever

Elton John is right to slag off Dolce and Gabbana. If I had the money to afford their clothes and the lack of taste to want them, I would boycott them too, but seeing as I don’t, and I don’t, it’s largely irrelevant to me personally. What isn’t irrelevant, though, is that the tedious prejudiced idiots of D&G have simply expressed a view that, while particularly odious for punishing gay parents, is representative of something that is quite widely held: people who don’t have kids shouldn’t have kids if they can’t have kids. In other words, IVF is bad.

A lot of people really don’t like the idea of IVF. I am not sure what it is about it that makes it so unpalatable for so many, but I guess it’s something about ‘interfering with nature’ or ‘making Frankenstein babies’. I do like IVF. I think it’s the most amazing thing in the world. And I’ll explain to you why.

We first starting “trying for a baby” – oh god, that awkward, clumsy little phrase, and yet I still years later can’t think of anything better – about five years ago. You try everything. You try measuring cycles. You try eating different foods. You try everything. You’ll do anything. Time passes and it gets worse and worse, that aching feeling inside you that something is wrong.

After a couple of years of trying, you’re allowed by Auntie NHS to find out what’s up, if anything. We went to find out. It was me. “Oligospermia”, it’s called, which essentially means there aren’t enough, and even the ones that are around aren’t particularly good.

I can remember finding out. You remember a lot of rooms and clinics and places you go to where you see sad couples holding hands in hope rather than expectation. You don’t really acknowledge the other people there, but you know you have this same shared dream, and same shared little pain. I was in one of those rooms. But I wasn’t in the room, either. It was a warm day. The blinds were fluttering and breathing by the window. The sun was outside. I just found myself floating out of those windows, right then, right there. It was as if all my dreams ended, right there. Or at least, they could have done.

Twenty years ago, that would be that. There wasn’t the technology to do anything about it. If we did have IVF, it would be with a donor. It would be without part of me. But now there’s a procedure called ICSI which means the sperm can be placed right inside the egg, to fertilise it.

That doesn’t mean, boom, everything is lovely. More clinics. More waiting. More tests. More rooms. More tablets. Waiting. Hours and days and weeks. As a man, you have the easiest of simple jobs, if slightly embarrassing: masturbating into a plastic beaker then handing it over to someone through a hatch. But that’s nothing. My partner has had to go through so much worse. Drugs, drugs and more drugs. Physical pain. Waiting. Going through discomfort on a daily basis to try and get ready for the eggs to ripen. Even then, not knowing if it will work.

More waiting. More tests. More rooms in clinics. More gazing into fish tanks. More waiting to be called. Making tiny lives, tiny potential lives, tiny lives. Will it work… will it work… will it work? No. No, it hasn’t worked. The agony of that floors you, more than you could ever imagine that it would. You know that you have to try, and you know what you were risking when you tried to get there… but that doesn’t stop it from being there, that thing that digs inside of you and makes you fall to your feet, that feeling of failure.

The doubts begin. Maybe they were right, all those voices you heard. Maybe it just isn’t meant to be. Maybe it will all be this way, forever, and that’s something you’re going to have to live with. It’s all the hurt of grief without death, without a coffin to bury, without anything to say goodbye to. As ever, again, for the woman, there is something physical. Something you can see. Something even more difficult, and bloodier.

You go through all that, and you wonder whether you could ever start again. Could you go through that again? For us, it wasn’t just a struggle of the mind, or a test or our emotional selves, but a financial question too. Where we live, you just get one chance on the NHS to make a baby; if you can’t get it right first time, you have to pay – through the nose, in full, several thousand pounds. We are lucky enough to be able to make that choice, challenging though it is to afford it.

Harder than the financial cost, though, is the battle you have to face with yourselves. You don’t realise at first just how much you’re knocked out by the impact of what has happened to you. You made something, and it was alive, and then it wasn’t. You can’t help casting your eyes up to the sky and asking what it was about you that meant you deserved this, or didn’t deserve that other thing, the thing that you wanted so much, but weren’t allowed to have because of circumstances.

I don’t even know how we got the strength to get there, but we tried again. More rooms. More clinics. More appointments. More pain and discomfort and worry. More stress. More waiting for something to go wrong. And then… and then it happens. You don’t believe it at first. You wait for something to change. But it doesn’t change. You see a face. Fingers. You see a tiny person grow. A tiny life that you want to look after more than anything in the world.

I know people believe in the strangeness of ‘nature’ or ‘mother nature’ or ‘god’ or ‘fate’ or whatever, but I don’t. I believe in the magic of the science that has made this possible in my lifetime. Not a synthetic baby, but a baby unlike any other. Ours. Our baby.

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Posted by on March 15, 2015 in Uncategorized


A pint of milk

Do you know the price of a pint of milk? Go on, quickly, what’s the price of a pint of milk? A pint of milk? A pint of milk. A pint of milk. An imperial measurement of white liquid squirted out of a cow. A pint of it. “But I don’t buy it in pints, I get those two-pint bottles, or four-pinters, or six-pinters.” Not good enough. A pint. A pint. Only a pint. A pint is the only thing that matters. A pint. Do you know what a pint costs? A pint. A pint of milk. A pint. A pint. Milk. A pint of milk.

If you don’t know – no googling now, you’re under pressure, and you must answer immediately – you’re out of touch. A member of the shadowy political elite. Someone who would point out an England flag on a white van. That kind of monster. That kind of evil. That kind of utter scum.

Somewhere, Ed Miliband, or someone like him, is being hothoused on the price of staple goods in imperial measures. A hundredweight of bread. A grain of Ovaltine. A gill of butter. A furlong of Battenberg cake. A fathom of teabags. He is being crammed full of information about yards of cornflakes and fluid ounces of Capstan cigarettes. He must get it right or he is doomed.

Somewhere else, a crumbling white-haired radio presenter is swotting up on these prices, too: he doesn’t actually know them himself; he gets the work experience drone to do that. But the important thing is that he might catch someone out and make them do a silly. A pint of milk. A loaf of bread. A bunch of bananas. Imagine if you got that wrong. Imagine. Imagine not knowing. Imagine.

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Posted by on March 4, 2015 in Uncategorized



My tooth is falling out. A bit chipped off the other day; the rest is grey and dying, or dead. It’s a trivial thing, when you’re young. Children I teach have teeth that wobble, then pop out, ready to be replaced. But this one won’t be. It’ll just leave a gap.

You get older and you notice things like that. When you’re older than you used to be – not hugely older, just a little bit rougher round the edges – you start seeing these tiny signs of evidence. A cracked tooth here, a wrinkle there. You lose your hair, or it fades to silver, or white.

You can’t see quite as perfectly. You can’t hear quite as beautifully. You look harder; you listen more. You try to fill in the gaps for the things you can’t see or hear, hoping you guessed correctly. Perhaps no one will notice, although they do.

Then: spring. Light. The first really bright day. Rays flutter through windows and detonate a fall of dust. Children scream in a playground, maybe excited, maybe scared, maybe both. A certain smell to the soil. You think back to a time before, the same light, the same smell. Yes, you are breaking down, but only slightly – the rest of everywhere is full of life. Growth and life.

Let the tooth fall apart. I’m still here and I can do without it. There’s light out there, light beyond the swaying blinds. Go out and see it. Let it all begin again.

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Posted by on March 2, 2015 in Uncategorized